State Internet services report more DoS attacks
Malicious attacks against online services of state offices and ministries are on the increase.
About 16 per cent of state organisations responding to a survey by the Government Information Security Management Board (VAHTI) said that they had been targets of attacks in 2008.
Such attacks typically were aimed at causing the website of a certain official to crash.
“These are clearly a minority in the whole mass, but their number has been increasing”, says VAHTI chairman Mikael Kiviniemi of the Ministry of Finance.
A total of 35 per cent of state organisations said that they had endured attacks that required specific data security measures.
Some of these attacks were not specifically targeted against officials. They can effect all services with a certain security vulnerability for instance.
Attacks come from both Finland and abroad. The number has increased since 2007, when one in five organisations reported getting attacks.
“One reason could be that the ability to identify attacks has improved”, Kiviniemi says.
There were slightly more attacks at the very beginning of the decade. The Finance Ministry is preparing a guide on how to defend against them.
Online attacks made headlines in late October when websites of the Swedish police and Swedish media outlets were caused to crash. Later FRA, the radio surveillance organisation of the Swedish armed forces were targeted.
The pages were caused to crash through denial of service attacks. In a typical DoS attack, the attacker commands thousands of hijacked computers to link up with a website. The computers can be commandeered by using a virus that can be downloaded from the Internet.
When a website’s capacity cannot handle all of the traffic, the pages crash.
Groups of hijacked computers are called botnets, whose users can buy a one-day attack for about 100-200 US dollars, says Mikko Hyppönen, head of research at the data security company F-Secure.
Hyppönen says that guarding against such attacks is expensive, and not worth doing for all web pages.
“There is not much harm to people even if a police website were down, because nothing critical is done there.”
Kiviniemi says that there is great variation in the degree of protection on official websites. Guidelines were established a long time ago.
Hyppönen says that botnets are typically projects involving “a couple of guys”. There are many operators of such nets, especially in Eastern Europe.
Data security professionals could dismantle botnets by breaking into them, but that would mean breaking into people’s computers, which the law does not allow.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Expert: Sweden’s DoS cyber-attack could also happen in Finland, and in fact it already has (30.10.2009)